Dog Pain Signs: 9 Signs That a Dog May Be in Pain [Vet-Approved]

A dog hiding which is one of the behavioral signs that a dog is in pain or dog pain signs

Dogs feel pain the same way we do, but they don’t always show it in the same way. Dogs instinctively try to hide their pain and are notoriously good at it! It is up to us to recognize the subtle dog pain signs and to get them the help they need.

The most common dog pain symptoms can be further subdivided into physical symptoms and behavioral changes. We’ve covered all of these dog pain signs in this complete guide! As always, feel free to reach out to a veterinarian about anything that concerns you.

What's in This Guide?

Physical Symptoms: 

1. Mobility 

Mobility issues in dogs are one of the dog pain signs that pet parents need to watch out for. This can be observed as difficulty walking or climbing stairs; a dog may limp or display an unusual gait. Dogs with mobility issues may also jump up less than they used to or become less active than normal. Collectively, mobility issues are dog pain symptoms that can be due to underlying injuries, joint issues, arthritis, or inflammation.

2. Shaking or Trembling

Shaking or trembling can be dog pain symptoms. While it's important to consider other factors like fear, anxiety, or cold temperatures, persistent or unexplained shaking — especially accompanied by other signs like limping, whining, or changes in behavior — could indicate underlying pain or discomfort. Pain-related trembling may result from muscle tension or an attempt to alleviate pain through movement.

3. Change in Posture

A change in posture is one of the dog pain signs that pet parents need to look out for. 

Having an arched back can be indicative of back pain or abdominal pain (whether it be muscle-, bone-, or organ-related). Hunched or stiff posture could also be due to back pain or other issues.

4. Increase in Breathing Rate (Even While at Rest)

Next on our list of dog pain symptoms is heavy panting or altered breathing while at rest. While rapid breathing can be because of anxiety or heat, an increase in breathing rate is also linked to pain or discomfort. Pain or discomfort can lead to heightened stress levels, which may cause dogs to breathe more rapidly

Meanwhile, labored breathing (with more abdominal effort or the neck extending out) or difficulty in getting a full breath in, might indicate a cardiac or lung issue.

A dog that is resting but has a fast breathing rate, one of the dog pain symptoms to look out for

Behavioral Changes:

5. Excessive Licking, Scratching, or Chewing

Excessive licking, scratching, or chewing on a specific body part can be a sign of pain or discomfort in dogs. This behavior typically indicates irritation, itching, inflammation, or an injury in the affected area. In addition, when dogs are hurt, they instinctively try to care for and clean the affected area. 

Excessive licking, scratching, or chewing can be linked to external issues, such as cuts, allergies, excessive itchiness, — and sometimes even internal issues, such as arthritis or joint pain. 

6. Aggressive & Anti-Social Behavior

Aggression and anti-social behavior can be dog pain signs. Pain can cause dogs to become irritable and defensive as they try to protect themselves from further discomfort. They may snap, growl, or display other aggressive behavior.

Additionally, pain can make dogs more withdrawn or antisocial, as they seek to avoid interactions that could exacerbate their pain. Sudden changes in behavior like refusing to play with toys, not greeting family members as usual, and hiding, can be signs a dog is in pain.

7. Restless Behavior & Difficulty Sleeping

Next on our list of dog pain signs to look out for is restless behavior and inability to sleep. Restless behavior during the day or through the night can be a sign of pain in dogs. Dogs in pain often exhibit restlessness as they struggle to find a comfortable position or escape the discomfort. 

Restlessness can manifest as frequent shifting, inability to settle or sleep, pacing, or repeatedly getting up and lying down. This behavior may also be accompanied by whining or vocalization. 

8. Decreased Appetite

One of the subtle dog pain symptoms or signs is having a decreased appetite. Dogs may avoid food to minimize any potential discomfort while eating, especially if the pain is related to oral issues, dental issues, gastrointestinal problems, or other underlying conditions. 

9. Crying Out, Whining, or Being Vocal

Crying out, whining, or vocalizing more than usual is one of the clearest dog pain symptoms. Vocalization is a dog’s way of expressing discomfort or distress. Dogs may whine, whimper, yelp, or even howl when they are in pain. This behavior can occur due to various sources of pain, such as injury, illness, or chronic conditions.

A dog howling, one of the dog pain signs to look out for

What to Do When a Dog is in Pain

1. Try to Limit Their Movement

If a dog appears to be in severe pain or is at risk of injuring themselves further (e.g. limping on an injured leg), take precautions to keep them safe. You may need to use a leash or crate to restrict the pup’s movement temporarily.

2. Avoid DIY Medications to Treat Dog Pain Symptoms

Don’t try to treat your dog’s pain yourself. Schedule a veterinary exam to discuss any of the dog pain signs listed here. 

It is also important to AVOID giving a dog over-the-counter pain medication without veterinary approval, as it could be harmful. Human medication and those prescribed for other dogs can also be highly dangerous.

3. Record Your Observations

Keep a record of the signs you are seeing. Pictures or videos of when your pet is in pain can also help your veterinarian determine the cause and create a proper treatment plan sooner.

4. Reach Out to A Veterinarian

Reach out to a veterinarian as soon as you suspect your dog is in pain. Vets can provide a professional evaluation of dog pain symptoms, diagnose the cause of pain, and recommend appropriate treatment options.

A dog brought to Sploot Veterinary Care in Denver, Colorado or Chicago to have a check-up for dog pain symptoms

Sick Visits & Urgent Care

We hope you found this guide on how to recognize pain in dogs helpful. Make sure to contact a veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the dog pain symptoms we covered in this guide. This is an important step towards resolving pain and promoting better health in your pup!

Need urgent care for your pup? Sploot Veterinary Care is here to help. Whether you suspect that your dog is sick or has an injury that needs urgent care, contact our team today for questions or for arranging an urgent intake appointment. We offer daily appointment availability, 365 days a year, with extended vet clinic hours across all of our Sploot pet clinics

As always, we're with you every pounce of the way!

Note: Feel free to refer to our cheat sheet on the most common signs of dog pain.
A comprehensive, vet-approved infographic showing the most common signs of dog pain or signs when a dog is in pain